In addition to spawning the popular Naked Gun
movie franchise, Police Squad!
had a lasting impact on TV comedy, and it's still a guilty pleasure. Hot from the success of Airplane!
two years earlier, the ZAZ team (brothers David and Jerry Zucker and writing partner Jim Abrahams) decided to spoof TV cop shows, using the late '50s Lee Marvin series M Squad
and the popular series format of Quinn Martin Productions (e.g., The Streets of San Francisco
) as their template for supremely silly, gag-laden satire. With Airplane!
star Leslie Nielsen as straight-faced detective Frank Drebin and Alan North as Drebin's befuddled boss, Capt. Ed Hocken, this half-hour series quickly established an irresistible combination of nonstop sight gags, non sequiturs, and repeated routines ("Cigarette?" "Yes, it is") that dared viewers to pay close attention or miss the laughs if they didn't. Ironically, this very quality--you had to actually watch
the show instead of casually listening for punchlines--is what ultimately sealed the series' fate. After only six poorly rated episodes, Police Squad!
was canceled without fanfare, and six years passed before Drebin returned as the bumbling hero of The Naked Gun
Will all six episodes on one DVD, ZAZ fans can get reacquainted with a series that was arguably ahead of its time. In addition to the rib-tickling disparity between onscreen episode titles and narrated titles, and "special guest stars" (including William Shatner, Robert Goulet, Lorne Greene, and others) who get killed in the opening credits, loyal viewers could count on a weekly dose of hilarity from Nielsen, North, and their supporting players. Character actor William Duell appeared each week as shoeshine boy "Johnny the Snitch," capable of answering literally any question if you repeatedly greased his palm (a gag that led to info-seeking cameo appearances by Dick Clark, Dr. Joyce Brothers, baseball manager Tommy Lasorda, and others). And while original Mission: Impossible costar Peter Lupus poked fun at himself as the dim-witted Det. Norberg (later played by O.J. Simpson in the Naked Gun movies), Ed Williams--an actual high school science teacher--is hilarious as "Mr. Wizard"-like lab technician Ted Olson, who dispenses dubious science lessons to unsuspecting children. The fast-paced barrage of humor guaranteed that every episode would deliver as many hits as misses, and while some of the jokes have lost their punch, Police Squad! still delivers the belly-laughs... and always will, as long as humans have an appetite for shameless stupidity. --Jeff Shannon
On the DVD
Two episode commentaries by the Zucker brothers, Jim Abrahams, and producer Robert K. Weiss are good for a laugh, as the ZAZ team laughs at their own material and recalls the rigors of a 5-day shooting schedule, battles with network censors (also outlined in the revealing "Production Memo Highlights" feature), and the never-shown "celebrity guest death" of John Belushi, who actually died shortly after the gag was filmed. Comedian and writer Robert Wuhl's commentary is more autobiographical and somewhat perfunctory (he barely remembers the episode he wrote), but contains a few nuts-and-bolts details about the show's production. The 10-minute Leslie Nielsen interview shows the gracefully aging star in fine form as he recalls his affinity for the ZAZ brand of humor; the brief gag reel offers about a dozen on-set bloopers (several from crude workprint sources); "Behind the Freeze Frames" is an extended outtake to illustrate the elaborately faked "freeze frame" gag that ended each episode; and "Celebrity Death Shots" is a list of guest-star death gags proposed (and mostly used) for the series. Also included are casting tests for Alan North and Ed Williams, and an animated producers' photo gallery of Police Squad! sets, props, and scenery. --Jeff Shannon